Education Guides

Comparing Indoor vs Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation

In this article, we explore the considerations that come into play when choosing between indoor versus outdoor cultivation.

While much of the debate over whether indoor or outdoor cannabis is better tends to focus on the finished product, there’s much more to the story. Indoor cannabis growing emerged in response to prohibition, only to become essential as the regulated industry’s state-led legalization framework caused the establishment of multiple localized markets. Yet plenty of growers and brands all over the country prefer to cultivate outdoors for a multitude of reasons. In this article, we’ll explore the considerations that come into play when deciding between indoor versus outdoor cultivation.

What’s the best way to grow cannabis: indoor or outdoor?

 

Out of the gate, growers have lots of decisions to make well before the seeds of a new cultivation can start to take root. For pro growers, the most important consideration is market value: what’s special about their cultivation practices, how the product is different, and how well it fits into the market being served. A brand looking to keep its carbon footprint at a minimum by prioritizing environmental sustainability, for example, is more likely to grow outdoors than indoors. But growing outdoors is more difficult, which means the cost-per-square-foot investment has a huge influence on a brand’s market position. Establishing clear objectives from the outset is crucial to setting the foundation for the everyday decisions that must be made to support the brand.

Another critical consideration at this stage is the amount of resources available to fulfill those brand objectives. Legalization is progressing at the state level, creating circumstances that vary from market to market – and cultivators must be aware of the impact this reality will have on their operations. Real estate options in major metropolitan areas, for example, may involve converting old office buildings and manufacturing sites into cultivation facilities, while buying land and building a new facility is much more accessible in rural areas. When it comes to hiring cultivators, a new market like Missouri is going to have a very different talent pool than Humboldt and other more established markets. And since outdoor climate conditions can impact a grower’s ability to control inputs in an indoor/greenhouse environment, even geography is a factor – after all, a facility located in the southern US is going to have very different HVAC and air conditioning needs than a facility built along the California coast. 

 

Indoor grow houses vs outdoor gardens

 

Compared with indoor setups, an outdoor garden offers growers the lowest point of entry in terms of cost, but little control over environmental and root zone conditions. While Mother Nature provides free light, air, and water, planting in existing soil requires working constantly with organic inputs. Soil chemistry management is crucial for outdoor growers looking to achieve product consistency. Adding supplemental media can immediately level up an outdoor garden and offer growers more control over the root zone, allowing them to use crop steering techniques to optimize plant growth and achieve consistency with each harvest. While this option means cultivators get to grow in clean media every year, it comes with additional costs which can vary based on the equipment used.

In an indoor grow, plants rely on humans to provide everything they need to survive. While incorporating controls and automation does make such setups more expensive than outdoor gardens, it also gives growers the ability to adjust and manipulate conditions toward particular yield and quality outcomes. Indoor facilities are available in a variety of configurations that ultimately come down to logistics and the amount of automation deployed – from automatic irrigation and HVAC controls to the use of conveyor belts, trimming machines, and more.

 

Indoor versus greenhouse

 

If there’s one major differentiator between growing greenhouse weed vs indoor, it’s cost. Indoor setups offer growers the greatest amount of control over their plants, but they’re the most costly and least friendly to the environment due to high energy usage. Greenhouse setups come in a range of options that allow growers both cost-effectiveness and more control over their crops. 

A hoop house is the least expensive greenhouse type. Also known as a high tunnel, this portable greenhouse structure is commonly made with metal or plastic framing and is a great option for a brand looking to get capital flowing before upgrading to an indoor environment. Hoop houses can be deployed quickly and are available in numerous styles and configurations with pricing to match. Adding improvements like electricity and automated lighting, heating, and air management systems increases the cost of the hoop house while also enabling growers to exhibit greater control of their environment – leading to better quality and consistency with every harvest. Growers who opt for a hoop house, however, can anticipate losing 2-3 months of production since they are difficult to heat during cold winter months.

Unlike a hoop house, a greenhouse will usually have heating, cooling, and supplemental lighting and can operate year-round. As more infrastructure is added – from a cement floor in a standard setup, to a glass roof and recirculating HVAC in an enclosed greenhouse – cost increases along with a grower’s ability to implement tighter controls.

As legalization expands, so do the options for growers. Use of large-scale indoor facilities aligns with the current localized nature of the sector, but the ability to optimize greenhouse environments to be more like indoor is increasingly catching on as the the industry matures.

In Summary

  • The two biggest factors for growers deciding whether to grow cannabis indoors or outdoors are market value and the amount of resources available.
  • Outdoor gardens have the lowest cost of entry, but offer growers little control over environmental and root zone conditions.
  • Greenhouse options range from inexpensive, quick-
  • to-deploy portable hoop houses, to enclosed greenhouses featuring glass roofs and recirculating HVAC.
  • Indoor cultivation offers the greatest amount of control with varying levels of sophistication but is the most expensive and least environmentally friendly.
  • While the market currently relies heavily on indoor cultivation, more sustainable and optimized greenhouse grows are the wave of the future.

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